Browsing News Entries

How one organization helps the Church welcome Catholics with disabilities

Washington D.C., Dec 18, 2018 / 05:52 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Around 14 million Catholics in the U.S. are living with a disability.

Since 1982, the National Catholic Partnership on Disability (NCPD) has been working to make sure those Catholics are welcomed as members of the Church and have opportunities to participate in the faith.

“The goal of NCPD is to ensure that people with any disability…can actively and meaningfully participate in the faith by using their gifts and interests,” said Janice Benton, executive director of the National Catholic Partnership on Disability.

“By virtue of baptism, everyone belongs to the body of Christ, and our work is to make sure that we are doing that with the proper attitude and spirit to make sure everyone can feel at home in their parishes,” she told CNA.

The organization works in in a variety of ways to “affirm the dignity of every person,” Benton said.

For example, they support people with Down syndrome by supporting campaigns that fight against discriminatory legislation, such as disability-selective abortions, while also working with individuals with Down syndrome as they prepare for sacraments and take an active part in the their faith.

“We remind church communities that people with Down syndrome and other disabilities are agents of evangelization and people gifted in their own right,” Benton said.

Founded in light of the 1978 document, “Pastoral Statement of U.S. Catholic Bishops of People with Disabilities,” the group has been promoting the pastoral guidelines for individuals with disabilities, particularly through access to the sacraments and Church life.

The National Catholic Partnership on Disability is a collaborative organization made up of various councils to serve people who live with physical, intellectual, sensory, mental or emotional disabilities. They also partner with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), and Archbishop Kurtz serves as their episcopal moderator.

“We work very closely with the bishops and the offices at the USCCB,” Benton said, noting that the bishops currently do not have a disabilities office, so the NCPD plays a huge role in this area.

One of the organization’s primary tasks is working closely with publishers to provide resources for catechists and leaders who are working directly in faith formation, but they also are involved in a number of different councils and speaking engagements around the nation.

The ministry provides catechesis, resources, spirituality and awareness building tools, trainings, conferences, and ministry models to dioceses throughout the country, and additionally offers online tools such as YouTube training videos.

“We are really set up to support the people in the dioceses, and even directly in parishes, to provide the support, resources, and training that the church might need,” Benton said.

She noted that the NCPD played a major role in the revision to the “Guidelines for the Celebration of the Sacraments,” which now aids priests, catechists and Church leaders in preparing the proper reception of the sacraments for individuals with disabilities.

While primarily ministering in the U.S., the disability resource group also works internationally with the Vatican and other groups. Esther Garcia, the outreach director for organization, said that she works with minorities, such as Asian, African, and Hispanic groups within the Church.

“The NCPD is working to ensure we are meeting the needs of families with disabilities in the Hispanic community,” Garcia said.

“We are all children of God…and it is our responsibility as a Church to provide resources and ways to ensure that [those with disabilities] have ways to receive the sacraments,” Garcia continued.

Moving forward, Benton told CNA that they are currently working on an app for sacramental preparation and Mass attendance for people with autism and other intellectual disabilities.

“We are always trying to develop resources that can easily be made available.”

 

This article was originally published on CNA March 21, 2018.

Salt Lake City diocese releases list of priests credibly accused of abuse

Salt Lake City, Utah, Dec 18, 2018 / 02:39 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Following suit with many other Catholic dioceses throughout the United States in recent months, the Diocese of Salt Lake City, Utah has released a list of all priests credibly accused of sexual abuse involving minors since 1950.

Of the 19 men on the list, 17 were priests at the time the alleged abuses occurred. Of the two remaining, one was a seminarian at the time of alleged abuse, and the other a religious brother.

“The list of credible allegations is one step toward providing the transparency that will help repair at least some of the wounds left by the wrongful actions of priests who have abused their sacred trust,” Bishop Oscar A. Solis of Salt Lake said in a statement reported by The Salt Lake Tribune.

“We continue to pray for the victims and their families and ask their forgiveness for our failure to protect them,” he added. The Diocese of Salt Lake City covers the entire state of Utah, and is home to more than 300,000 Catholics.

According to KSL News, the diocese said that it considered credible those allegations for which there was “sufficient evidence” to verify that the abuse may have occurred “such as the accused and the accuser being in the same area around the time the conduct is alleged to have happened.”

The diocese told KSL that a credible allegation is not the same as a guilty verdict, but does call for further investigation.

One priest on the list, Father David R. Gaeta, faced three accusations this year - two from the 1980s, and one from 2018.

In June of this year, Gaeta was accused of lying in bed with a minor in 1982.

In August of this year, a separate accusation was filed with the diocese against Gaeta, accusing him of offering alcohol to four minors and suggesting that they undress, also in 1982. In July of this year, Gaeta was accused of touching a child’s buttocks while pushing a swing. The case was civilly investigated, but no criminal charges were filed.

Gaeta has been placed on leave since August, and this week the diocese announced that Gaeta will retire “without faculties” on Jan. 1, meaning he will be unable to publicly present himself as a priest or publicly celebrate the sacraments.

Of the men on the list, eight are deceased - seven priests and the religious brother. Of the men who are still alive, 10 were either laicized, retired without faculties, or left the priesthood. The seminarian accused of abuse was dismissed from seminary. According to the list, no active priests credibly accused of abuse remain in active ministry in the diocese.

One of the accused men, James Rapp, was laicized and is in prison in Oklahoma. He was accused of sexually abusing four minors in Utah, and was imprisoned for abuse of minors outside of Utah. While the majority of the alleged abuses occurred prior to 2002, when the U.S. Bishops issued the Charter for Child and Youth Protection, many accusations came to light during or after that year.

In a statement on their website, the Diocese of Salt Lake said that an independent committee of lay people will review the diocese’s internal files and verify the accuracy of the information on the list. If needed, the diocese said it will update the list and publicly release any additional information provided by the lay committee.

The diocese added that it is “committed to ensuring the health and safety of young people within its community. Anyone who has been a victim of abuse or exploitation by clergy, religious or lay Church personnel and has not yet reported the incident is encouraged to do so.”

The full report can be found on the diocesan website.

Meet Lidia Bastianich, the woman who cooked for two popes

Brooklyn, N.Y., Dec 18, 2018 / 10:30 am (CNA/EWTN News).- If you were asked to cook for the pope, what would you choose to make? This was a real question for chef Lidia Bastianich in both 2008 and 2015 – the years in which Benedict XVI and Pope Francis visited the United States.

“I remember vividly,” Bastianich told CNA. “It was an extraordinary experience.”

“When I got asked to cook for Pope Benedict, I didn’t believe it was going to happen. I remember I laughed and said, sure, Monsignor, I would love to, but is that a reality?”

Bastianich, 71, is a chef, cookbook author, and restaurateur. An Italian immigrant who came to the United States as a young girl, she is an expert in Italian-American cuisine who has hosted several cooking shows on public television. Her memoir My American Dream was published earlier this year.

The process of cooking for a pope during an apostolic journey begins well before he arrives, with the formation of a team of chefs and wait staff. From there, the menu of the meals is planned and sent to the Vatican for approval.

Benedict XVI

Doing research, Bastianich learned that Benedict’s mother had been a cook and she thought that he would have “some good food memories” from that time in his life, which she wanted to evoke.

For Benedict XVI they were scheduled to prepare two meals: a large dinner for the pope and around 50 cardinals and bishops the first night, and on the second night a smaller dinner that would also be his 80th birthday celebration.

For the first big dinner the menu included string bean salad with sheep’s milk ricotta, pickled shallots, and toasted almonds; ravioli with pecorino and pears; risotto with nettles, fava beans, and ramps; whole roasted striped bass with boiled fingerling potatoes and a frisee salad. And for dessert: apple strudel with honey vanilla ice cream.

For the dinner celebrating his birthday and his third anniversary as pope, they prepared asparagus salad with pecorino, fava beans, and green chickpeas with lemon and olive oil; and a round, flat pasta filled with meat, called “agnolini,” in chicken broth.

The main dish was a beef goulash with a side of pan-fried potatoes and onions, served with sauerkraut and sour cream for a German touch. Dessert was an apricot and ricotta crostata and a chocolate-hazelnut cake with the words “Tu es Petrus”, topped with a two-foot-tall marzipan mitre.



After the meal, Benedict told Bastianich that the meal was “very good. The flavors of my mother.”

“I was so happy that he ate, that he enjoyed it, that the memories were those of his childhood,” she said. “I wanted to make him feel at home.”

One special moment she recalls was when they brought in his birthday cake and sang “Happy Birthday” in English and Italian. They handed him the knife to cut the cake, but when he hesitated, Bastianich reached over. “I actually helped him cut it!” she laughed.

Another touching moment, Bastianich noted, took place after the dinner: a diplomat performed a violin sonata and Benedict invited the whole kitchen staff to come, sit down, and listen to the music with him.

Pope Francis

For Pope Francis, Bastianich’s first instinct was to go with an Argentine theme and serve lots of meat, but the Vatican turned down her first menu proposal because Francis must eat lighter things for his health.

Instead she chose to focus on his northern Italian heritage, preparing heirloom tomatoes, house-made burrata, and steamed lobster; capon soup with Grana Padano raviolini, veal medallions, Boscaiola, porcini, corn, and fresh tomato; and concord grape sorbet with angel food cake for his first dinner in New York.

Bastianich and her staff were also in charge of preparing Francis’ breakfasts, though all he wanted each morning was some fresh orange juice, tea, and toast.

They also prepared his bedside table at night with a glass of water and a banana, she said. “I put a few cookies, too. I wasn’t supposed to, but I put a few cookies.”

Friday’s lunch consisted of cooked and raw vegetable salad with ricotta; risotto with porcini, summer truffles, and Grana Padano Riserva; and roasted pears and grapes with vanilla gelato.

At dinner they served pear and pecorino-filled ravioli, aged pecorino, whole roasted striped bass, late summer vegetables with extra virgin olive oil and lemon, and apple crostata with local honey ice cream.



One memory of Pope Francis’ visit stands out for Bastianich in particular. After lunch on Friday, he went to rest in his room, she said. The staff were in the kitchen taking a coffee break and discussing their plans for the next meal when they suddenly heard the pope’s security staff running and shouting “Papa, Papa!”

“And all of a sudden, we see [Pope Francis] enter the kitchen,” she said. “And he peered in and said, “Posso avere un caffe, per favore?” – “Can I have a coffee, please?”

“He sipped on his espresso and he talked to each one of us. He spent a good 20 minutes with us in this simple kitchen, us dressed in our chef clothes. It was so intimate, so wonderful.”

Before leaving, she recalled that “he reached into his pocket and pulled out a rosary for each one of us, and handing it to us said, ‘pregate per me,’ pray for me … It was extraordinary.”

Her Catholic faith

Bastianich has been a Catholic from birth and said that personal prayer is very important to her. “I feel that ever more… I need to talk to God because I need his guidance,” she said.

She also noted that she has a special devotion to the Madonna of the Miraculous Medal, which she carries with her every day.

Despite growing up in communist Yugoslavia, “the faith was always a part of me, I always believed,” she said. Unfortunately, at this time, her family could not go to Mass and she had to be baptized in secret. Her grandmother taught her and her brother prayers when they would visit.

When she was 10 years old, Bastianich’s family escaped back into Italy, staying for two years in a camp for political refugees before immigrating to the U.S.

A benefactor paid for her to attend a Catholic school run by a religious order and she said that those two years were when she really learned about her faith. During this time, she would also cook with the sisters in the school’s kitchen.

Those years in the refugee camp, when food was scarce, have given her a greater appreciation for helping people out of her abundance, she said. “He gave me so much, but what he gave me is not mine to keep, I have to share, he has to show me the way that I can share what he has given me with others.”

....

Watch EWTN News Nightly's interview with Lidia Bastianich:



This article was originally published on CNA April 5, 2018.

Full of Grace Cafe: Small-town parish opens thriving coffee shop, community center

Baton Rouge, La., Dec 18, 2018 / 04:16 am (CNA/EWTN News).- When Fr. Josh Johnson arrived as pastor of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Catholic Church over a year ago, he slept in a room above the choir loft.

The church and rectory had been ravaged by a flood a couple years prior that had destroyed or damaged 95 percent of the small town of St. Amant, Louisiana. The pastor of Holy Rosary had also left due to health reasons, leaving the wrecked parish without a pastor.

Knowing he was coming into a difficult situation, Johnson called in the big guns: he asked communities of cloistered nuns to surround his new parish in prayer.

“I immediately reached out to the cloistered convents and was like: ‘Hey y'all, here's the deal. I'm going to this parish that's just been devastated, can y'all please adopt this parish as spiritual mothers and intercede for these people?’” Johnson told CNA.

Then he bumped up the amount of time that the sacraments would be available to his parishioners. He rearranged the schedule so that his staff could start their day with Mass and adoration.

Fast-forward to today - the prayers of those nuns, and of the people of the parish of Holy Rosary, have come to fruition in the booming and thriving Full of Grace Cafe, a one-stop-shop community center run out of the renovated rectory.

The full name of the rectory-turned-community-center is: Full of Grace Cafe: Quenching God’s Thirst for Charity & Justice.

And the name fits, because it’s hard to come up with a service that Full of Grace Cafe doesn’t offer.

It’s a coffee shop, but it’s also a food pantry and a soup kitchen and a diaper drive and a laundromat. There are volunteer Human Resources specialists, psychological counselors, a hair stylist, a Creighton FertilityCare specialist and an ultrasound machine. There’s a room for small groups and bible studies. There’s a fireplace and a pool table and a courtyard for outdoor movie nights and socials after Mass.

That wasn’t the original vision. At first, Johnson had the simple idea to move the existing food pantry to a more prominent location, and to maybe one day open a coffee shop.

“I had a very small vision at first, just put the food pantry up front, that way when people come to our campus, you see a beautiful church, and then you see a space for service of the poor,” he said.

“And then from that, different parishioners just began to share their dreams.” All of the services are offered pro bono by parishioners who wanted to share their gifts with the community, Johnson said.

“One lady came to me and said I have the gift of doing hair, and then she said my friends do too, and we would love to come and do hair for free there. And so I said ok, cool, it can be a food pantry and a salon.”

As word got out about the cafe, the offers of help just kept coming.

“And then someone said why don't we make it a soup kitchen too? I love to cook. These people out here can cook well! So I was like ok, we can do that. Then another woman who works with me, she's a Creighton fertility care specialist, and she was like, I can walk with couples and do Creighton FertilityCare for people who are infertile or who have endometriosis or cysts on their ovaries or who want to do Natural Family Planning.”



Johnson also recruited the help of local branches of Catholic Charities, St. Vincent de Paul, and other non-profits in the area to bolster the services and to provide legal help and counseling.

He said he hopes to bring Jesus to people in a way that is non-threatening, in a way that informs, but doesn’t force anything. He said he wants people to feel heard, and for them to know that the cafe is a place where people can come and mutually share their gifts and their lives.

“The goal is really to have a place where the body of Christ can come together to give and receive,” he said.

“I'm going there to receive too, I'm certainly going to give in there, but I'm also receiving. Like when I do a bible study with our parishioners, God speaks to me through their wisdom and through their love for the Lord. And whenever I'm with the poor I'm receiving as much as I'm giving, so its a place of mutuality, where I can give to you and I can receive your gift and we can accompany each other toward heaven.”

Johnson is not foreign to mission work. Before he became a priest, he spent time serving with Mother Teresa’s order, the Missionaries of Charity, in Calcutta, India. He’s served the poor with a religious order in Jamaica, and several years ago he was on mission at the U.S.-Mexico border.

But the cafe is just a means, Johnson said, not an end. The goal is to point people to Jesus, and ultimately, to make saints.

“On the wall for (Mother Teresa’s) home for the dying and the destitute, there's a quote on the wall that Mother Teresa said to God,” Johnson said. “She said: I will give Holy Mother Church saints. And I remember when I saw that quote it pierced my heart, so it’s on my ordination card...and this is my way of drawing people to the sacraments.”

Johnson himself left the Church when he was young. What brought him back, he said, was the Eucharist.

“The Eucharist is what brought me back to Jesus and so I believe if I could just get people to come to our campus, then I have the opportunity to point them to Jesus and the Eucharist because the Eucharist is where transformation happens,” he said.

“The Eucharist is going to do everything else, I've seen Jesus work miracles, it’s so cool,” he said.

He’s invited Protestants to come to Eucharistic adoration at his parish, and “I've just seen legit transformations... people who don't even know what's going on have these hardcore transformations because Jesus is alive, and I think we just need to believe that Jesus is God and that he can do what he says he does.”

Johnson has endless stories of all kinds of providential encounters that have happened through the Full of Grace Cafe. There was Micky, a homeless man who wanted community and is now connected to a bible study. There was a distressed young man in the parking lot who needed a job - and was able to take a roofing job that another man had told Johnson about the day before.

Something else Johnson wanted to emphasize was the evangelizing aspect of the Full of Grace Cafe. He didn’t just want to offer food or laundry services to people in need without also trying to tell them about Jesus, he said.

“One thing I noticed in seminary, helping out at Catholic apostolates, when they did work for the poor and with the poor, they wouldn't evangelize well,” he said. “They would give people food, like handouts and stuff, but they wouldn't try to tell people about the story of salvation, and share Jesus with people and really proclaim the faith.”

That’s why in every room of Full of Grace Cafe, there are scripture verses on the wall and pictures of saints. “And they're really diverse saints, because I want everyone who comes to see a saint who looks like them,” he said, from Our Lady of Kibeho to Our Lady of Guadalupe to Fr. Augustus Tolton, St. Jose Sanchez, St. Dymphna, Saints Peter and Paul and more.

“So whether you're white, black, Asian or Hispanic, you're going to see someone who looks like you who's a saint, so you're going to be inspired. You're going to see scriptures on the wall. You're going to meet people who aren't just going to give you a hand-out, but who are going to ask you your story and ask if they can pray with you. I want it to be a place where people would legit encounter Jesus.”

He’s also hoping that he will find an order of religious sisters who will fill the convent in the back of the cafe and help out at the parish.

“I want nuns!” he said. So far he’s had a few different orders of religious sisters come and visit to see if the parish would fit them.

“I want nuns who love Jesus and who love the poor and who love the Blessed Sacrament,” he said.

Johnson said one of the most rewarding things about Full of Grace Cafe has been seeing how willing his parishioners are to pitch in and share their gifts with the community.



“They're like my kids,” he said of his parishioners. “It’s like wow, I'm younger than them because I’m only 31, but I'm like oh man, look at my kids, they're happy about this, they're excited about doing ministry.”

“I recognize I am a limited member of the Body of Christ,” he added. “I'm a necessary member for sure, but I'm very limited, my role is limited, so if I can just build up my parishioners to say yes to being the particular member of the body of Christ that they're called to be, I've done my job well because then we're gonna run, we're gonna thrive.”

The projects at Holy Rosary parish and Full of Grace Cafe have only just begun.

Taking another cue from Mother Teresa, the next step for Johnson is, unsurprisingly, building an adoration chapel and setting up perpetual adoration.

“I've been telling people ok, now, we have to set up perpetual adoration because I don't want any of us to become a bunch of heretics out here thinking we're gonna work our way to heaven,” he said. “We've got to focus on the Eucharist and we're going to see so much more supernatural fruit.”

He said that when Mother Teresa’s sisters prioritized time in prayer in front of the Eucharist, they saw their order and apostolates flourish in new ways.

“We're going to follow the model of saints,” he said. “We're going to next focus on getting an adoration chapel built so that we can have really hardcore time of just Jesus and I, and adore the Lord and watch him work! Watch the Lord do his thing, and he will, he will. It’s so exciting.”

All photos courtesy of Fr. Joshua Johnson.

From bartender to priest: 'God is very insistent!'

Santander, Spain, Dec 17, 2018 / 08:17 pm (ACI Prensa).- How do you go from being a bartender who has not attended Mass for 15 years to becoming a priest?

For Fr. Juan de Cáceres, the answer is that God was persistent in pursing his heart and revealing his call.

Today, Fr. Juan is a priest of the Diocese of Santander in Spain. But he had been away from the sacraments for 15 years when he had a conversion that allowed him to hear God’s call in his life.

After finishing his undergraduate studies, Juan enrolled in law school. However, he was not a good student, and in 2006, at the age of 28, he decided to quit law school to open a trendy bar in Santander.

However, with the onset of the economic crisis in Spain, what had initially promised to be a successful business became the focus of his financial problems, compounded by the crisis of turning 30 and feeling a lack of direction in his life.

“I was really lost, drowning in debt and with the [economic] crisis, there were almost no customers. In addition, my friends quit going out like they used to. They began to get married and stopped dating. I found myself all alone,” he said in an interview with the El Diario Montañés news.

While Juan had stopped going to Mass 15 years ago, a friend invited him to some talks on prayer, which became the turning point that changed his life.

At first, he went to the talks to spend time with his friend. But something within him changed little-by-little: he began to go to Mass again, returned to confession, and re-enrolled in school.

His life started to come together again, until two years after that new beginning, he “felt the call” to the priesthood.

But his first reaction was “to say no.”

“I came up with all kinds of objections: my work, my debts, my life. I thought what I needed to do was to settle down, meet a woman who would make me very happy and have a family. But God is very insistent! And from then on, he would not let that thought out of my heart or mind,” he told El Diario Montañés.

When he decided to discern a vocation, he asked then-Bishop Vicente Jiménez of Santander if he could enter seminary in another city, because “had to keep his distance” from his past life. He entered a seminary in Pamplona, about 120 miles away.

“I was working at the bar up to the day before going to Pamplona, where I spent three fantastic years,” he recalled. During that time, Fr. Juan also worked with the Chinese Catholic community.

He was ordained a priest last January and was assigned to serve four parishes in Santander. He also teaches religion classes three days a week to teenagers.

The experience of being a bartender ended up having value for the priest, who noted that during those years, “I was sort of a confessor to everyone.”

He also helps foster vocations in the diocese because as he explains, “a lot of people have felt the same way I did, but they haven't figured out how to follow up…I'm here to listen and guide.”

 

This article was originally published July 18, 2018 by our sister agency, ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

 

California priest convicted of sexually assaulting San Diego seminarian

San Diego, Calif., Dec 17, 2018 / 04:26 pm (CNA).- A California priest was convicted Monday of sexually assaulting a seminarian. After his conviction, Fr. Juan Garcia Castillo will be listed on California’s sex offender registry, and could face up to six months of incarceration.

During a week-long trial, the San Diego seminarian assaulted by Castillo testified that the priest approached him Feb. 4 in a restaurant bathroom and groped his genitals twice.

The assault followed a night in which Castillo took two seminarians to a bar and restaurant after an event at St. Patrick’s Parish in Carlsbad, where the priest served as parochial vicar. The seminarian said they had several drinks, and that Castillo encouraged him to drink to excess.

The seminarian testified that he went to the bathroom sick after midnight, and that Castillo approach him from behind and groped him.

In September, a spokesman for the Diocese of San Diego told CNA that the diocese had not publicly commented on the allegations because “we need to see what happens to the criminal case because the issue of consent is so important and if it’s not clear, we wait for that to get made clear.”

Castillo's defense did not address consent, but instead denied that contact between the men was sexual.

The priest told jurors Dec. 14 that when he touched the seminarian, he was trying to put pressure on the man’s stomach in order to help him stop vomiting, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Castillo told jurors he put one hand on the seminarian’s back and then “tried to put my other hand on his stomach.”

“My mom always put pressure on my stomach to calm down, stop the vomiting. That’s what I was taught as a kid,” he said. Castillo added that he might have “accidentally” touched the seminarian’s genitals, but that he couldn’t recall.

Castillo sent text messages to the seminarian after the incident, offering apologies, but not specifying what the apologies were for, San Diego Union-Tribune reported. Castillo told jurors he was apologizing for encouraging the seminarian to drink to excess. However, in one exchange, a seminarian accused the priest of “sexually com[ing] on to seminarians.”

Castillo responded: “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

A jury decided Dec. 17 that Castillo’s contact constituted misdemeanor sexual battery. He is expected to be sentenced within a month.

Castillo, who is also known as Juan Gabriel Castillo, is a member of the Congregation of Jesus and Mary, a religious community of priests also known as the Eudists. The priest, 35, was born in Honduras, and in 2011 was ordained a priest at St. Patrick’s Parish by Cardinal Oscar Maradiaga of Tegucigalpa.

In a statement released Monday afternoon, Bishop Robert W. McElroy of San Diego said that “upon reviewing the facts regarding the allegation of sexual assault against Father Castillo, the diocese of San Diego removed him from ministry in the diocese immediately and permanently.”

“We are deeply saddened by the victimization of one of our students, and the damage to society and the Church that it represents.”

Pro-life group concerned over NIH head’s support of fetal tissue research

Washington D.C., Dec 17, 2018 / 02:53 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A pro-life group dedicated to electing pro-life officials is calling on U.S. President Donald Trump and his administration to “correct” comments supportive of fetal tissue sales and research, recently made by National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Francis Collins.

At a meeting of an NIH advisory panel in Maryland on Dec. 13, Collins said that while fetal tissue sales are currently being audited by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and alternatives to fetal tissue are being explored, fetal tissue “will continue to be the mainstay” of federal scientific research.

“There is strong evidence that scientific benefits can come from fetal tissue research, which can be done with an ethical framework,” he added.

His comments come at a time when HHS, the parent agency of NIH, has terminated contracts with groups over their use of fetal stem cell tissue, has declined new contracts with other groups over the same, is auditing the use of fetal stem cell tissue throughout the department, and is exploring alternatives to the use of fetal tissue research.

For the Susan B. Anthony (SBA) List, a pro-life group that works to end abortion and elect pro-life officials, the remark drew deep concern.

The comments from Collins “put him at odds with HHS and the whole Trump Administration in the audit process and begs the question of whether anything can truly change while he’s in charge at NIH,” Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of SBA List, said in a statement.

“We urge HHS to correct his comments, which are dramatically out of step both with President Trump and the pro-life voters who elected him,” Dannenfelser said.

In comments to reporters, Collins argued that fetal tissue is necessary for certain kinds of research, and said that “even for somebody who is very supportive of the pro-life position, you can make a strong case for this being an ethical stance...That if something can be done with these tissues that might save somebody’s life downstream, perhaps that’s a better choice than discarding them.”

Dannenfelser said in her statement that “there is absolutely no moral or ethical justification for treating these children like commodities to be chopped up and sold piece-by-piece to anyone - especially the federal government with taxpayers footing the bill.”

“These hearts, eyes, livers and brains belong to fellow members of the human family. They are ‘harvested’ following abortions that deprive these unborn boys and girls of their right to life,” she said.

She urged correction of Collins, noting that pro-life voters are looking to the administration for pro-life action.

“Pro-life voters across America reject the use of their tax dollars to purchase the ‘fresh’ body parts of unborn children and are looking for a pro-life policy change.”

 

Pennsylvania diocese opening faith-based addiction recovery high school

Allentown, Pa., Dec 17, 2018 / 03:34 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The Diocese of Allentown, Pennsylvania, is opening a drug and alcohol recovery high school for students, combining education, counseling, and faith in promoting healing.

Kolbe Academy will start its first term in September 2019. It will be a Catholic high school for students dealing with addiction, looking to recover from drug or alcohol abuse.

The academy is named after St. Maximillian Kolbe, who is the patron saint of people struggling with addiction.

Before entering the school, a student must have reached at least 30 days of sobriety. The school’s tuition will be about $16,000, which is similar to a 28-day treatment program. According to the diocese, it expects to establish scholarships to assist students with tuition.

Brook Tusche, the diocesan deputy superintendent of secondary and special education, told CNA that she had first discovered recovery schools after working in the public school system. She said the lack of effective resources in public schools for students with substance abuse was frustrating.

Normally, students who undergo treatment have only a 20 percent chance of sustaining their sobriety when they re-enter school. In comparison, she said recovery high schools have an 85 percent success rate maintaining sobriety.

After serving as a special education supervisor and director at a public school, Tusche was asked to join a recovery charter school. However, she found that secular recovery schools were still missing an important aspect – faith, described by Alcoholics Anonymous and similar groups as accepting a higher power.

“Many of these models were private, public, or charter, and they were not engaging a faith component,” she said. “Being actively engaged in my faith family and my work, I learned so much about addiction and recovery that the faith component is it. That’s the missing piece.”

Tusche pointed to a study conducted by the Pew Foundation, which highlighted the role of faith in the healing process. She said the study looked at those who reached long term recovery, 10 years or more of sobriety, and uncovered a widespread connection to faith.

“Those addicts in the recovery said the single reason they were able to maintain their sobriety and continue to grow in their recovery was because of their faith.”

In 2017, there were more than 72,000 drug overdose deaths in the nation, Tusche said, and Pennsylvania was the state with the fourth-highest overdose rates.

Kolbe Academy will accept about 80-90 students, in order to ensure an environment conducive to healing.

“That is done very deliberately to keeping a very small environment so that we really can cultivate the family component as well as the students’ individual healing and recovery,” Tusche said.

The program is a trifecta of sorts, promoting healing through a strong diocesan curriculum, intensive counseling, and a plethora of spiritual and sacramental opportunities.

Part of the education, she said, will be an online component. This is especially important for students whose school life has been impaired through their addiction or the initiation of their recovery. The virtual class option will allow students to catch up on the credits they may have missed.

The school will also utilize a variety of mental health professionals, including certified recovery specialists, certified coaches, and drug and alcohol certified counselors.

Part of the school’s goal, Tusche said, is to direct students to develop a peer-to-peer fellowship model.

“Recovery is more than just putting down the substance…[it’s] really understanding who they are themselves, understanding their strengths, some of their triggers for them.”

A major aspect of the counseling process will be family counseling and the development of a family support system. Because addiction affects family, friends, and the community, Tusche said, it is important to undergo healing along with the community.

“In order for true healing to happen, we all have to experience that healing, and families and friends need to be a part of that process because [the addicted] struggle with a stigma, with their own sense of guilt and shame, their own enabling.”

The family support will deal with a spectrum of experience levels – parents who may never have previously encountered addiction in their lives or parents who themselves struggle with addictive habits. The school will look to connect those families with other resources in the community, such as Catholic Charities.

The final aspect of the recovery program is spiritual – the school will include frequent prayer and service opportunities, seeking to reach students of all faiths.

It will be an “authentically Catholic experience with Mass, sacraments, with prayers in every class, with service, with campus ministry, and opportunit[ies] for kids who are Catholic and who are not Catholic to come in and experience what higher power is,” Tusche said.

While many high schools have a zero-tolerance policy, meaning students are expelled if they are caught even once with drugs or alcohol, Kolbe Academy will work with students to discover the reasons behind the relapse. Tusche clarified that the school will not tolerate terrorist threats, weapons, or intent to distribute.

“For individual use or relapse that may or may not have happened on campus, we are going to work with students for their safety and for their continued healing,” she said. “That may mean increased drug testing, increased accountability, [and] increased counseling sessions.”

Relapse does not always occur, but if it does happen, it is important for students to recognize the reasons behind the relapse, she said. Students can learn to identify the triggers which appeared before the relapse and the behavior that set them up for that regression.

“The most important thing in a relapse isn’t the actual day they brought the substance into their system, it’s looking back prior to that because a relapse really is behavioral, the thinking behind a relapse starts before they actually ingest that chemical.”

With the statistics pointing to rapidly increasing overdose deaths nationwide, Tusche voiced hope that faith-based recovery schools will be modeled throughout the country.

“Clearly, there is opportunity for and a need for more of this model, not only here locally, but when you look at those staggering statistics – 72,000 lives lost – this could be a national model in integrating quality academics, intensive recovery support in a faith based environment to help these kids heal, and really embrace their true identity and God’s purpose for their life.”

 

The cycle of porn and loneliness

Richmond, Va., Dec 16, 2018 / 04:46 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Andy*, a devout Catholic and recently married man in his twenties, encountered a vicious cycle of pornography in high school and some college – a cycle of porn and loneliness.  

“[Porn] would create this whole loneliness, but then, [because of] that loneliness itself, I was seeking for some sort of connection and I was seeking that through the use of pornography, like this reciprocating cycle,” he told CNA.

Starting sophomore year of high school and ending sometime in college, Andy’s porn use would also make him feel shame about interacting with people. It would lead him to be more anti-social, then to loneliness, and ultimately to more porn use. He said it was real, human connection which broke that cycle.

“I found that one of the things that actually helped me break that cycle was actually more interaction with people that were really good friends and people that were there for me.”

Andy’s experience is not uncommon, according to a recent study from the Institute of Family Studies.

IFS linked greater porn use to increased loneliness and higher levels of loneliness to more porn use, pointing to a vicious and unhealthy cycle. One of the men behind the study, Mark Butler, wrote an article describing the research.

“If loneliness can lead to pornography use, and pornography use may bring about or intensify loneliness, these circular linkages may create a vicious cycle, pulling the user even further from health-promoting relationship connections,” he wrote July 3.

The study surveyed more than 1,000 people from around the world, and a statistical model was developed to analyze the potential reasons behind this cycle of loneliness and porn use.

Butler wrote that “each incremental increase in loneliness was associated with an increase in pornography use (by a factor of 0.16), and each incremental increase in pornography use predicted a significant increase in loneliness (by a factor of 0.20).”

“While the magnitude of effects was small, they were statistically significant,” Butler wrote. “Interlocking partnerships like this are worrisome since they represent an entrapment template associated with addiction.”

The model highlights the biological experience and results of the sexual system that ought to produce greater relational connection through pleasure and comfort.

“First, there’s the physical pleasure of arousal, intercourse, and climax – the engine designed to ensure offspring. Then, after climax, partners experience the brain’s 'love' plan for pair bonding, when oxytocin … is released, producing feelings of comfort, connection, and closeness.”

However, without a partner with whom to bond, the sexual activity produces a false relationship experience, “offering temporary ‘relief’ from lonely feeling, but soon enough, the user again faces a real-world relationship void,” he said.  

The mental fantasy of a relationship experience invited by pornography “only tricks the brain for a while,” Butler said.

“The user can’t escape the fact that when the experience is over, they’re still alone in an empty room. So, when sexual intoxication wears off, the experience may only end up excavating a deeper emptiness – a setup for a vicious cycle.”

The temporary escape from the long term loneliness creates a false-belief that porn is a “fix” for loneliness, he said, noting that it is similar to drug addictions.  

“The sexual system’s combination of two very different rewards – intense sensual gratification during arousal and climax, followed by oxytocin’s relief and comfort during the resolution period – could be thought of like a combined cocaine-valium experience and ‘hook.’”

“We hypothesize that this experience could create the potential for getting trapped in the short-term, feel-good escape of pornography joined with long-term loneliness.”

Butler also pointed to other studies that show a decrease in porn use after marriage, suggesting that human connection contrasts with this vicious cycle.

“Married persons use pornography less than single persons. The fact that pornography use decreases after marriage may hint at a link between pornography, relational success, and loneliness.”

 

*Name changed to respect privacy

This article was originally published on CNA July 11, 2018.

How this classical Catholic school welcomes children with Down syndrome

Louisville, Ky., Dec 16, 2018 / 02:47 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Students with Down syndrome study Latin and logic alongside their classmates at Immaculata Classical Academy, a Catholic school in Louisville, Ky., that integrates students with special needs into each of their pre-K through 12 classrooms.

The school emphasizes “education of the heart,” along with an educational philosophy tailored to the abilities of each student. About 15 percent of students at Immaculata have special needs.

“When you look at these students with Down syndrome in a classical setting, it is truly what a classical education is all about -- what it truly means to be human,” the school’s founder, Michael Michalak, told CNA.

“You can't learn compassion in a book,” Michalak explained.  He said the students at Immaculata are gaining “the ability to give of yourself to help others” through mutual mentoring constantly taking place in the classrooms.  

Michalek founded the academy along with his wife, Penny, in 2010. The couple saw a need for a Catholic school in which students like their daughter, Elena, who has Down syndrome, would not be segregated from her siblings. They wanted to keep their children together without compromising educational quality or spiritual formation.

“A classical education is, I think, the best education for a child with special needs because it is an education in everything that is beautiful, true, and good. It is perfect for these children,” Penny told CNA.

The school’s course schedule is configured so that students can move up or down grade levels by subject at each class hour, according to individual needs. “A second-grader might go to third grade math class and a child with Down syndrome in second grade might go over to first grade or might stay in second grade,” Michael Michalak explained. “Nobody is looking around and saying, 'Oh, they are going to special classroom.’ They are just going where they need to be.”

“In the midst of all of this we are not leaving students behind,” Penny added, “We keep our high academic standards while integrating students with special needs.”

Since its founding, the independent Catholic school has grown to a student body of 160. Other Catholic schools across the country have begun looking to Immaculata as a model, the Michalaks say.

“Whenever anyone visits our school, they always say, ‘Oh my goodness the joy of this place!’” Penny told CNA.

The couple attributes the school’s sense of joy to the Holy Spirit and “the joy of belonging.”

“Inclusion is more of a buzzword these days, but it is true that we all want to belong and we all want to be loved,” said Michael Michalek.

"Prayer is the air that we breathe. We start the day with prayer. Every class starts with a prayer and ends in a prayer,” said Penny, who entrusted the school to our Our Lady at the school’s founding with St. Maximilian Kolbe as its patron.

"Our whole philosophy is to teach every child as if we were teaching the Christ child, so that is how we handle each and every student," Penny continued.

A developing religious community, the Sisters of the Fiat, also teach at Immaculata. The sisters take an additional vow to serve those with with special needs, along with the traditional vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.

The school’s founders say they are aware of their unique witness and role in a world where many children with Down syndrome are aborted. The estimated termination rate for children prenatally diagnosed with Down syndrome in the United States is 67 percent; 77 percent in France; and Denmark, 98 percent, according to CBS News.

At the annual March for Life in Washington, DC, students from Immaculata Classical Academy hold signs that read, “Abortion is not the cure for Down syndrome." The students are united in mission as “a pro-life school” and pray together for an end to abortion for their brothers and sisters with Down syndrome around the world, Michalak said.

The Michalaks have also adopted three children with Down syndrome.

Michael sees the founding of a school like Immaculata as the natural Catholic response at a moment in history when children with Down syndrome are especially at risk.

"Look at what the Catholic Church has done throughout history: We see orphans; we build orphanages. We see sick people; we build hospitals. It is in this particular time and place that we saw the need to take the lead on this and to start a school that incorporates the whole family.”

His wife adds, “When you are doing something that you feel called by God to do, it is a vocation, it is a mission, it is a calling...how can you not be full of joy when you know that this is the will of God. It is very rewarding.”

 

This article was originally published on CNA Feb. 2, 2018.